Are you interested in learning how to hunt for Lionfish? If so, read on to learn how and why you should learn to spearfish Lionfish. This guide will provide you with helpful spearfishing techniques and discuss reasons why Lionfishing hunting is so important to the environment and how you can help.
First, What is a Lionfish?
The Lionfish (other common names, turkeyfish, zebrafish, firefish, scorpion fish) is a meat-eating fish native to the Indo-Pacific that has now become a highly invasive species in the Atlantic.
It was originally found in the waters of the Indo-Pacific, ranging from French Polynesia and the Pitcairn Islands to western Australia and Malaysia, it continues throughout Micronesia, and north to the waters of southern Japan and Korea. It can also be found in the waters of New Zealand and is migrating rapidly.
Lionfish In The United States
You can also find Lionfish in abundance in their non-native range along the southeastern waters of the United States. Ranging from the waters of Florida to North Carolina. They can also be found in the waters of the Caribbean. There have been reports also of the Lionfish in Long Island Sound.
It is thought because Lionfish are a popular aquarium fish in the United States they were possibly intentionally released into the Atlantic. The first lionfish was reported in South Florida waters in 1985 (source: Ocean Service, NOOA).
Why Are Lionfish Harmful?
Lionfish are harmful to coral reefs and have shown to destroy the wellbeing of other native marine life. This includes the survival of commercial fish.
Lionfish love to consume herbivores and because of the depletion of herbivores, which in turn eat algae from the coral reefs. Thus, the spread of algae rapidly destroys these beautiful reefs. Reefs are home to much marine life that basis their entire life on this ecosystem.
Lionfish also prey on fish that use these coral reefs as their home. These fish are normally consumed by snappers, groupers, and other commercially important native species. This in turn negatively affects the health of these fish that are a huge source of commercial and recreational use to the local economy.
“This invasive carnivore may cause deleterious changes in coral-reef ecosystems via predation on native fishes and invertebrates as well as competition with native predators. We conducted a controlled field experiment… Lionfish caused significant reductions in the recruitment of native fishes by an average of 79% over the 5 wk duration of the experiment”. Source (MARINE ECOLOGY PROGRESS SERIES, Mark A. Albins, Mark A. Hixon.)
Due to the rapid growth and destruction of Lionfish, scientist are even working on a robot lionfish hunter. Here’s an interesting article from Popular Mechanics that discusses how scientists are developing a robot.
Another reason People are fascinated by Lionfish is that they carry a deadly poison that can be injected through their spines. So they are venomous, but not poisonous. Venom must be injected into the bloodstream and can’t harm you if swallowed. The poison is not located in the meat of the fish, but is found in the needle-like dorsal, pelvic and anal fins of a lionfish. Plus, if the venom was cooked it becomes harmless.
There’s a James Bond film (The Spy Who Loved Me) where a poor “somebody” dies from being injected with venom from a Lionfish. Apart from somebody that’s highly allergic to the venom, it’s not a fatal venom. That being said it can cause immense pain, blistering and swelling resulting in infection. Please see a doctor if you ever get injected.
A quick note. Lionfish are delicious and many people love to have it raw…sushi style or as a ceviche…Sounds good! See below – Can You Eat Lionfish.
Ciguatera Fish Poisoning
Something to be aware of…as in all fish when in areas that have been sited with Ciguatera Fish Poisoning please be extra careful in the fish you can consume. This doesn’t just apply to Lionfish, but other species such as grouper, amberjack, and red snapper to name a few. Ciguatera Fish Poisoning is most commonly found in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean Sea (not a complete list). Please always check for warnings when you travel and practice safety first. I can’t stress that enough.
How do I actually hunt for Lionfish?
The best way to hunt for Lionfish is by using a pole spear or speargun (This is a spearfishing website). You can also free dive or in most cases scuba dive. Please check your local regulations when it comes to spearfishing with scuba gear. When it comes to spearfishing for Lionfish, scuba in most areas is allowed because Lionfish is an invasive species. That doesn’t mean you can scuba and spearfish other species of fish…please check.
The following list isn’t all-inclusive, but are the main items you will need. They’re also links to our top recommendations that can be found on Amazon.
Many a diver have used a speargun, but I would recommend using a pole spear for Lionfish. A large speargun is just not needed. A pole spear is quick and easy to use.
An all in one package I recommend is the Zookeeper. Of course, you could use it for other fish, but it was designed to help divers hunt for Lionfish. It comes with a pole spear and a storage tube for the fish. This storage tube is nice to prevent drag through the water and protection from the venomous spines of the Lionfish. It’s a little pricey, but you can check out the latest pricing on Amazon here and above.
For more in-depth reviews please take a look at our recommended gear page.
- wetsuit (if needed)
- mask and snorkel
- catch bag
- speargun or pole spear
- Weighted belt
- Cooler (for your catch)
I always strongly recommend diving with a buddy and there’s no exception when spearfishing for Lionfish. Plus it’s always nice to go with someone that has experience from diving and spearing in the local waters. Overall safety is the utmost importance.
As mentioned previously one of the main areas you will find an abundance of Lionfish is around coral reefs. Please note, because one of the main reasons for hunting Lionfish is to help save these coral reefs please be careful.
It is understandable, but many newbies become fixated and excited on hunting lionfish and don’t realize they may be harming the coral reefs themselves. Take your time and relax when using a speargun. Unfortunately, divers miss and in turn break up the coral reef with the penetrating spear. It is also common for a newbie diver to break coral when kicking with their fins. The bottom line is to think about what you are doing and of course, be safe and be aware of your surroundings.
As mentioned one of the most important techniques when spearfishing any fish is to stay calm. Survey the area and learn the different coral and rock formations. You will find that Lionfish are very territorial and will typically stay in their territory when unprovoked. One reason for this is there’s no known predator except man that hunts Lionfish. In many cases, if you are calm they will not be scared away.
When taking aim, aim right behind the gills. Even though the body can be a bigger target a fish can break away or bury its self into a hole. It, of course, can also damage the meat and most importantly it’s the most humane method of spearfishing. Take a look at our other articles on spearfishing techniques. They will give you more in-depth techniques on the nuances of spearfishing and best practices.
Can You Eat Lionfish?
As mentioned above, yes you can eat Lionfish…it’s delicious!
Lionfish, in my opinion, resembles the texture/meat of a snapper. Similar to a rock cod. It’s a mild white flakey tasting fish that can be prepared in many different ways. From putting them on the BBQ, frying in a pan or baking in the oven they are all delicious options. Here are a couple of videos on some Lionfish recipes and cooking techniques that I found delicious. Video 1 (Gordon Ramsey) and Video 2 (Sashimi).
Lionfish In Restaurants
You are also seeing Lionfish on the menus of restaurants in Florida and it’s common to see them on menus throughout the Caribbean. Lionfish are in demand and there are plenty of them, but difficult for the commercial fisherman to catch. This is due to the fact that they stay close to reefs, rocks and to the bottom of the ocean floor. Using a net is difficult and prohibited in many areas. This is another reason why spearfishing is a great method to catch them. Lionfish at the supermarket will range in price between $8-$10 per lbs for fresh fish.
I hope this article gave you a better understanding of the origin of Lionfish and why they are so invasive to the marine ecosystem and how you can help. I also gave you a few tips on how to spearfish for Lionfish. Lastly, Lionfish hunting is fun to do and they are delicious eating. Enjoy!